Mavs Exclusive: What's Really Bothering Odom

Lamar Odom wears his heart on his sleeve. He wears sneakers with names scribbled on them, so he wears his heart on his shoes, too. ‘Basketball is life,' Odom tells ‘And in life you got to be prepared for the unexpected. You never know. And that's why you can't put all your eggs in one basket.' Our talks with L.O. have given us insight into him and his Mavs, those eggs and that basket, too.

This Dallas Mavericks team is unique in about six different ways.

Aside from being old, tall, versatile, deep and smart – maybe sometimes to introspectively smart for its own good -- the 2011-12 Mavs are something else: a defending champion moving forward rapidly with a roster that bears limited resemblance to the team that won the title. … and a roster poised to soon be greatly altered again. So far, we're talking about an active roster turnover of 50 percent and five key outgoing players as the Mavericks face the unenviable task of playing title defense while integrating so many new faces and doing so without a full training camp.
Oh, and are also unique in another way: most everyone on this roster not named Dirk might be gone next year.

OK, so that's seven ways.

A member of the staff is working on a magazine piece with Lamar Odom, the ex-Lakers standout who has struggled to fit in with the Mavs. In our multiple visits with L.O., he's spoken warmly and frankly about his feeling that "death always seems to be around me," as he phrased it for the LA Times.

Lamar's mother died of cancer when he was 12. The grandmother who raised him passed away in 2004. Lamar buried his own child, a victim of SIDs at just shy of seven months, in 2006. This summer he traveled to New York for the burial of a 24-year-old cousin with whom he was close (Odom says the cousin was murdered) and while he was there, was a passenger in a car involved in a traffic accident in which an allegedly out-of-control motorcyle struck and killed a 15-year-old pedestrian.

In two of our conversations with Odom, he used the "basketball is life'' phrase, and it apparently means more to him than a slogan on a t-shirt. On one occasion, Lamar said, ""It's humbling. It's a humbling game. It's a humbling experience. Life is the same way. You can win the jackpot, and then lose somebody close to you. Basketball is life. I'll continue to live, be a better man, and be a better basketball player as well."

Later, in our one-on-one talk, he said, "There's a saying, 'basketball is life. And in life you always got to be prepared for the unexpected. You never know. And that's why you can't put all your eggs in one basket.''

We initially assumed Lamar was speaking on the passing of his loved ones – and preparing for the changes that come with that. But now we wonder … "You can't put all your eggs in one basket'' … Is there tucked inside that chestnut some deeper explanation for why Odom has played so ineffectively since his season-starting trade from LA to Dallas?

Odom is among the Mavs who face a looming specter of wholesale turnover – and maybe of feeling "unwanted,'' if you will -- as a result of two factors. One, almost certainly by Mavs braintrust design, many on this roster are in the final year of their contracts. Two, the Mavs telegraphed their long-term plan in the offseason by deciding not to offer multi-year contracts to soon-to-be departees Chandler, Barea, Stevenson, and Butler.
Dallas GM Donnie Nelson tells us that "Long-term financial flexibility" will be the franchise's guiding principle in the new CBA environment. readers know the goal to be more specific than that. The Mavs forecast a SuperTeam Era and they want to be dealt in. So we all know what Plan A is. We've thoroughly dissected it here and even given it a catchy nickname. The "3D Blueprint" certainly is one reason all the newcomers are on flexible deals, because two guys are about to become available – Dwight and Deron -- who are worth sacrificing that "long term financial flexibility." Furthermore, in the new CBA, a high value will be placed on guys who outplay their contracts, and the avoidance of contractual albatrosses will be key to remain competitive.

So in addition to Lamar and that "cloud of death'' that he feels hangs over him, there is a downside to The 3D Blueprint and majority of the roster living under a cloud of uncertainty.

On one hand, there is no excuse for everyone not playing hard. This is why they get paid millions of dollars, a chance at another title is at stake, and selfishly, buy-out candidate Lamar and the rest must knowing they are auditioning for new contracts.

On the other, the realization that this group is more ephemeral than most could undercut any potential chemistry and cohesiveness the Mavericks might achieve this year.

This is the dark side of The 3D Blueprint: potential short-term pain for maximum long-term gain. It's the right path, but not without peril. However, it could also be the story of the season. It's not the elephant in the room; it IS the room.

It goes beyond Lamar, of course. Lets look at the uncertainty. Ian Mahinmi, Brian Cardinal, Delonte West, Yi Jianlian, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry are in the final year of their contract. Brandan Wright, Vince Carter and L.O. have deals that, to one degree or another, are not guaranteed past this season. Furthermore, Shawn Marion or Brendan Haywood might face the chopping block of the Amnesty Provision this offseason.

Smart Mavs watchers look at this situation and salivate at how such flexibility could pave the way for the arrivals of Dwight and Deron to team with Dirk. But in our haste to assemble the next SuperTeam, we never quite stopped to ponder the ramifications that potentially 75 percent of this locker room realizing they might be Dead Mavs Walking, in terms of their Dallas careers.

Lamar Odom is vocal about the pain he feels from being cast away from the Lakers in pursuit of bigger and better (LA's pursuit of Chris Paul). Though he and his agent wanted to come to Dallas, surely he feels some of those same feelings of unrequited love creeping up with his current team, as he knows his return next year is unlikely. If that sentiment can affect a player as talented and mature as Odom, surely it can infect others.

Jason Terry sees the writing on the wall as well. "You've got eight guys in here," says Jet of Mavericks playing on expiring deals. "I'm one of them. All we can do is together, collectively, make this group special."

That's the same Jet who started this season with the empty public declaration requesting a lucrative contract extension. To be frank, there's a reason never wrote that story: It's a terribly stupid notion.

Jet's not getting an extension this year. Lamar Odom isn't getting a new deal this year. Nobody is getting any such thing.

We saw last year what it takes to make a team with only one transcendent talent special: It takes chemistry. Flow on offense, Dirk being the best player on the planet for two months, and defense brought the Mavericks their first Larry O'Brien. Two of those three are dependent on cohesion that only time and shared hardships bring. In the superstar-driven NBA, the whole must be greater than the sum of its parts to capture a championship.

The Mavs must rely on chemistry – make that an eighth factor that might make them so different – in pursuit of more contention. But they are simultaneously pursuing The 3D Blueprint, and maybe it's a tricky and delicate thing trying to do both.

Lamar Odom has talked a lot about a variety of factors that have weighed him down this season. In our visits with him, he seems quite introspective. He recently told a group of reporters, "Some things happen that took me away from the game; took some time off. You've got to be right mentally as a person first before you do any of this."
There are a lot of reasons he's not "right mentally.'' We can scoff cynically at his struggles and say things to the guy at the next barstool like, "If you paid me millions, I'd damn sure be able to separate my personal life from my business.'' And maybe it's true. But the Mavs braintrust will handle Lamar Odom like family, and we bet he needs that, as does Delonte, as does Jet, as does maybe every member of a contending team in flux.

They need to convince Lamar Odom to go ahead and take the risk, to "put all his eggs in one basket.''

And we need to listen, too. Tomorrow we're going to get around to asking him about those scribbled names on his sneakers.

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